There were many confounding aspects to Sloane's suicide that the Drew Mill family could not quite comprehend. First, perhaps, was the fact that it happened mid-day during the warmest spring in memory.
"Seventy-five and sunny! I was outside all morning getting sunburnt, fourteen new freckles on my nose, and she was upstairs doing it!" said Aunt Anne incredulously, audibly italicizing the final word, shaking her head with its newly freckled face.
It had been a gorgeous day. Warm and bright, with an azure sky blown over with white clouds that puffed along briskly in the wind. The Drew Mill family house had had every window open and the family had been in the midst of a good spring clean. Mother Drew Mill had been elbow deep in the sink, which was full of bubbles that sparkled yellow and blue in the sunshine no matter how many knives and forks were introduced. Angelo was reading out loud to Kikka, who was on her knees scrubbing at a particularly sticky spot of jam that had dried and crusted, gem-like, into a horribly hard smudge.
Aunt Anne, per her account, was outside, sunning herself, transfixed by the smell of the lilacs, which had grown bushy and huge in the west corner of the backyard, reaching truly impossible heights. Pauline and Marlene were cross-legged in the bathroom, casting bets on which of them could hold a bar of soap between their teeth for the longest amount of time, certain that this trial now would help them out of a trouble spot in the future. Father Drew Mill had been out on the front driveway, inexplicably hosing it down in some post-winter ritual. With the green hose snaking out from one hand, he looked out and nodded and smiled at every passing car. "Hell of a day!" he would offer loudly to anyone walking by, "Hell of a day!"
Upstairs, Lou was in her closet, switching her wardrobe from cold weather to warm weather, making piles of "goes" and "stays." Being seventeen, she was in between sizes and styles, and so the "goes" pile grew bigger and bigger and so too did her despair. She was going to be left with nothing to wear!
In the next room over, with its white bed dappled with sunshine, and gray walls covered all over with pictures, and white furniture rising like glaciers from the puddles of dirty clothes, Sloane had killed herself; had, in fact, been lying dead for some time before she was discovered by Kikka, who had been sent by Mother Drew Mill to collect water glasses from "the little hoarder." Kikka, upon opening the door, and finding Sloane amidst the tumbled sheets and blankets of the bed, had screamed and they had all run to stand over the still warm corpse of Sloane's dead body, which was surrounded on all sides by the red and white cores of apples.
The apples were confounding to them and, too, to the police, who, after gravely removing Sloane's blonde and softly curved body, returned to scratch their heads, unsure whether or not to treat the apples as evidence, or to allow Kikka to toss them all in the can. Ultimately, it was decided better to be safe than sorry, and the police bagged each apple core individually, with a grand total of thirty-seven apples tagged and bagged and taken away. Days later, the autopsy revealed that Sloane had died of poisoning by cyanide, which had come from the hundreds of apple seeds that she had picked out of each apple core and swallowed. This, coupled with a note found after a thorough cleaning of her bedroom, led her death to be ruled premeditated suicide, and they had a quiet funeral and buried her in the shade of a dozen budding trees.
The note, which was found written in divinely shaped cursive, as if Sloane had determined to make one last attempt at perfection, was short and to the point.
"I've killed myself," she wrote, "because I am the saddest thing in the entire world. I can't seem to ever get anything right. I have tried to be happy, but I can't. It's never just one thing; it's everything at once. I feel like I am drowning all of the time. The entire world is melting away and everyone is dying or miserable and children are going hungry and girls are getting raped and I feel every bit of their pain like it's happening to me. I lay awake all night and think about how much more time there is in the world, just thousands of days of time, and it is suffocating. I can't imagine being forty-five or eighty-seven. I can't feel this way for seventy more years. I can't do it. It's either then or now, so it's now. It's better for everyone this way." And she signed it with a wobbling heart that looked, to Angelo, almost like a moth in flight.
While Angelo and Kikka both felt that it was best that Sloane had killed herself in such a graceful and essentially mess-less way, Aunt Anne was certain that Sloane was now burning up horribly in the fires of Hell.
"It's the greatest slap to the face of God," Aunt Anne said, fingering through Sloane's sock drawer, "Sloane made absolutely no effort, at least, none that I ever saw, to help others. If she felt bad about what was happening to other people, why didn't she go with me to the clothing drive? Why didn't she volunteer at the soup kitchen? And she's missed uncountable Sundays at church. She chose to ignore the goodness of God. She chose to do nothing. Sadness is a sickness, but let this be a lesson to all of you. Life is a gift from God and should be treated as such." And Aunt Anne shut the sock drawer with especial determination.
Mother Drew Mill was inclined to believe the same as Aunt Anne. Sloane had killed herself. That counted as murder... Didn't it? And murder meant you went to Hell. And it was true that Sloane had never really made any attempts to help others. Why, just a few months ago, she had actually refused to go to prayer circle when John Lininski was sick with cancer. If Sloane had cared so much, why had she spent so little time trying? It's times like these, Mother thought, where faith is tested, and she shook out her dishrag with vengeance and applied herself liberally to crusted platters of funeral casseroles.
Father Drew Mill refused to talk about Sloane with anyone. It was only after Kikka had cried herself into a coughing fit that Father Drew Mill resolved to make an official statement. "What Sloane did was selfish and not worth a single tear," he said, cutting fiercely into his steak, which, having not rested long enough, released its fluids in a sudden and bloody gush. "She gave up her life because she did not care about herself or us. She died in sin and will be judged in sin. Your Aunt Anne is right. Sloane did not want to live. She did not want to try. It's up to God now where she goes." With that being said, Father Drew Mill turned to his meal and ate every bite deliberately with an audible crushing of his jaws.
After such an outburst, the family made a silent pact to disperse any conversation that touched on Sloane or Sloane's death. While each member made a resolution to avoid Sloane's room, as if it were somehow tangibly tainted, Lou found herself slipping up to Sloane's room to lie in the bed. Here, tucked between the covers and propped slightly up by pillows, Lou found that she could see her entire head and torso in the mirror on top of the dresser. In its reflection, Lou's head was encircled by a halo of four pictures of dark haired girls, beautiful and laughing, all in perpetual motion astride black bicycles. Their smiles were white, too white, and their legs were painted in such a way that they looked as if they were pedaling. They were obviously traveling fast, faster than Lou had ever been on her own bike, their hair streamed behind them, and the supposed motion made Lou dizzy and sick to her stomach, as if she too were moving faster than she could possibly stand.
Lou also found that, when the window was open, and the door cracked just ajar, she could hear Aunt Anne softly crying in her bedroom across the hall, and the twins pinching each other in the kitchen below, and a man screaming at his dog outside, and the branches being cut off a tree, and someone vomiting in the house next door, and these sounds swarmed the room like bats and hung off the furniture and the ceiling fan and even off of Lou herself, who felt herself growing heavier than she had ever believed possible.